How to Choose The Right Style of Motorhome

You’ve been dreaming of buying a motorhome since flared jeans were in fashion (the first time around) and it’s finally time to make that long-awaited purchase. The only problem with buying what is likely to be the largest purchase in your life outside your family home is choosing the right type of motorhome to best fit your style.

If you choose the wrong motorhome, it’s probably not going to be the end of the world ( even the worst chocolate cake still tastes pretty wonderful..) but getting your RV purchasing decision right will turn your RV experience from simply ‘good’ to GREAT! Jim Collins would approve.

So how do you know what type of motorhome will suit you best if you have never owned a motorhome before? Buying a motorhome is a bit like trying a restaurant for the first time. You can read reviews on Trip Advisor all night long but until you’re sitting down and looking at that menu, eating the food, paying the bill, you just don’t know if the person you married… I mean the restaurant … er…

This is why I recommend you should rent a motorhome* before you buy one. Renting a motorhome is stupidly expensive of course ( I do miss Kea Australia who would allow you to rent their motorhome and then take the rental price of the purchase price if you decided to buy)  but I’m sure that a lot of people who buy motorhomes would (in retrospect) actually prefer a caravan or a slide-on… or a hotel if they had only had the chance to properly try a few of the options out before getting hitched. I mean hitting that big purchase button.

The thing is, when it comes to Motorhomes, all the numbers are big. If you buy a second-hand motorhome for $80k, that’s around $3000 AUD in stamp duty alone. A new RV can run $140k – 500k+  and don’t get me started on maintenance costs. I guess what I’m saying is now is not the time to quibble over spending $2000 or so to rent a motorhome and see if you actually like the lifestyle.

Renting an RV is as much about learning what you don’t like as it is what you do like so give it a try this weekend and you can thank me later.  My recommendation would be first to rent a small motorhome or large campervan. Something built within a standard van body as they handle very much like a car and can give you a taste of freedom without all the distractions that come from Driving a 23 foot long behemoth for the first time.

When you experience your first motorhome, It’s likely you’re going to be doing quite a lot of driving and exploring.  There is so much to see and so many places to go in every state of Australia so you could conceivably be zipping here and there and everywhere for quite some time. With this in mind, having a smaller van for at least the first year or so makes a lot of sense. You’ll save thousands in fuel, it will be SO much easier to find parking near your attractions and you will be SO much more likely to take your van out regularly for a run.  I actually think most people if questioned, would tell you that they should have bought a motorhome much earlier in life. A smaller van or motorhome is very affordable when you are still in your mid-40s or 50s or even younger and is the perfect compliment to an active lifestyle.

Larger motorhomes are great when you reach the second stage of motorhome ownership^. This is when you want to settle down a little bit and park for a little longer in each place you stay.  No doubt you’ve seen a lot of people driving around in the 30+ foot motorhomes towing a small car or 4×4. The reason for this is big motorhomes are a bit like getting out of bed on a cold morning. Great when you get going… but.

While 30-foot long motorhome with slide outs is not something you would want to be driving around day-to-day, it’s certainly a beautiful sized RV to live in day-to-day. I don’t think of ever met anyone who said they wished their motorhome were smaller when it’s parked so if you think that you are going to be regularly parked up for a week or more, buy the biggest RV you can afford.

Just coming back to the point of fuel economy,  I heard an excellent argument for buying a petrol motorhome rather than a diesel motorhome which comes back to this idea of how large motorhomes are actually used. A large motorhome is usually driven for short periods of time and then parked up for longer periods of time.  The argument came from a chap who was driving a 1968 Bedford bus powered by a modern petrol v8. He was quick to agree that yes, a petrol power plant does chew through fuel like a milk cow on fresh pasture chews grass but if you’re only driving a few thousand kilometres each year, fuel use becomes a secondary consideration compared to the upfront additional cost of a diesel power plant and ongoing maintenance. Food for thought.

When you start researching which motorhome to buy, you will read all about a class motorhomes and C class motorhomes and B class motorhomes but this categorisation is about as relevant as rainbow cake.  Fine for identification purposes but it tastes pretty similar.

When you are looking to choose the right motorhome style for you, the five key criteria which will have the greatest impact on your enjoyment of your RV are as follows.

Walk-Thru Motorhomes

A walk-thru motorhome is any motorhome where you can slip out of the driver’s seat and walk into the living area with no step or obstruction to block your way.  This style of motorhome usually has a flat floor and is really great when you are touring around and want to pull up and make a cup of tea or use the conveniences and it’s raining outside or it’s dark, cold etc. It’s also usual that the driver and passenger seats spin around and form part of the living area which means less wasted space. Flat-floored motorhomes used to be the exclusive domain of buses and A class motorhomes but now many C class and Van styled motorhomes offer this same great feature.  

Motorhomes with Storage Lockers

One of the reasons why so many RV buyers overlook smaller motorhomes and head straight for the bigger styles is that they are worried they won’t have enough storage space and people who think like this are likely right!

A motorhome with storage lockers can go a long way to providing a place for all those must-have items but all that storage space does have one small trade-off depending on how good your hips (and hip pocket) are. Other than generally being more expensive, a motorhome with storage lockers will also have a higher entry with at least three steps up into the living space.   Whether this is an issue for you could easily be resolved by taking the stairs rather than the left for the next week or so.

Old Versus New

Like for like, buying a new motorhome vs buying a used motorhome will cost you more upfront and more in depreciation. On the other side of the coin, buying the wrong used motorhome could easily end up costing more to own for the same given period.  Something that surprises a lot of new buyers is the fact that you will generally have a few little teething problems in the first stage of ownership even when buying new – but those issues should be relatively minor and will settle down nicely like good dental work.  Older motorhomes tend to throw up the proverbial spanner in the works on more of an ongoing basis. If you’re buying a motorhome in retirement and you are worried you won’t have anything to do, buy an old motorhome.  If you like things to smell shiny and new, like things to be fixed under warranty and you have worked hard your entire life and feel like spending the kid’s inheritance, buy new!


^If you are a ‘stay a while’ kind of camper, it’s worth exploring Slide-On campers (if you can handle the high entry point or will always take it off the back of your rig and set it down low) or perhaps a caravan.